The final defendant charged in connection with the kidnapping and death of CaSondra Evrard pleaded guilty but mentally ill to a lesser charge just weeks before her trial.
Jasmine Taylor, 25, was to stand trial starting Jan. 21 on charges of murder and kidnapping stemming from Evrard's death in December 2010, but instead entered an Alford plea to a first-degree manslaughter charge Monday in McCracken Circuit Court.
Under an Alford plea, the defendant doesn't admit guilt but acknowledges there is enough evidence for a conviction at trial.
Circuit Judge Craig Clymer asked Taylor several times if she understood the plea and whether jurors would find guilt at trial based on the evidence, to which Taylor responded: "I think they probably would."
Despite competency hearings last summer that deemed Taylor mentally competent to stand trial in January, defense attorney Will Kautz held that Taylor was delusional throughout the events leading up to and during Evrard's death and has no memory of them.
Evrard, who was 21 when she died, was reportedly friends with Taylor. According to prior court testimony, Taylor had told family members that Evrard had allowed her to be raped, at which point family members lured Evrard to the family's Ogden Landing Road home on Dec. 10, 2010. Prior witness testimonies stated Evrard was tortured until she died. Sheriff's deputies found her body on the Massac Creek bed a day later.
Deputies later arrested Taylor and her parents, Jamie and Mark Taylor, and charged them with murder and kidnapping. Four other defendants related in various ways to the Taylors - Denise, Destini and Brandi Marshall, and Zachary Finley - faced various charges in connection with the events.
All of the defendants pleaded guilty, with the exception of Mark Taylor, who was found guilty of murder and kidnapping in August and sentenced to life in prison without possibility of parole.
Kautz said he was prepared to debunk much of the commonwealth's evidence against Jasmine Taylor at the upcoming trial - based on her initial interview with police following the arrest - as simply false because of Taylor's delusion.
In the week before Evrard's death, Taylor was found wandering aimlessly in a neighborhood, possibly after she had been drugged and raped, Kautz said. Taylor was admitted into behavioral health care and released a day before Evrard's death, still in a delusional state.
The behavior continued into Taylor's jail time where she reportedly claimed she was being poisoned by a friend of Evrard dressed as a jail guard among other instances, Kautz said.
"I think there's two victims in this case," Kautz said.
"There is no doubt in my mind that CaSondra was an innocent victim. CaSondra never pimped Jasmine out, CaSondra wasn't present if and when Jasmine was raped by three boys, CaSondra wasn't present at the party when I believe Jasmine was given drugs, and any thought that CaSondra was anything other than Jasmine's best friend was delusion on Jasmine's part. Whether that delusion was based on drugs that Jasmine had been given or some violent crime that had been practiced against her, no one will ever know."
Kautz said he wished there would have been more investigation into Jasmine's claims, but nonetheless commended the McCracken County Sheriff's Department for the entirety of its investigation into Evrard's death.
Kautz admitted the plea agreement was difficult because he represented a client who couldn't make clear decisions herself.
First-degree manslaughter typically carries an 18-year prison sentence where a minimum 85 percent of time must be served before appearing before a parole board. Taylor has already served three years and would likely serve an additional 15 years.
Taylor will be sentenced at 9 a.m. on March 7. The sentencing for Taylor's mother, Jamie, was moved to the same day.
Assistant Commonwealth Attorney Raymond McGee said the agreement resulted from a series of negotiations with Kautz in the past several weeks.
"It's not quite resolved but it's certainly been a marathon of a case and we're looking forward to March 7 when we can finally have some closure at least to the criminal aspect of the case," McGee said.
Contact Will Pinkston, a Paducah Sun staff writer, at 270-575-8676 or follow @WCPinkston on Twitter.
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